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Tribe Busted in web

Posted by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:30 AM
  • 16 Replies

Arizona Tribe Caught in Drug Smuggling Web

July 21, 2009

By Brady McCombs of the Arizona Daily Star via the Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—Like  many Tohono O'odham tribal members lured into driving or storing loads of marijuana, Jenny Lopez got an offer from Mexican drug smugglers she couldn't refuse:

If she'd drive a car loaded with marijuana across the U.S.-Mexico border and through the Tohono O'odham Nation to Phoenix, she'd get money to buy a car, two days in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) and some cash, a Tohono O'odham police report shows.

She got her trip to Rocky Point, but her car was seized and the promise of cash evaporated on May 10 when O'odham police stopped her north of the U.S.-Mexico border and found 145 pounds of marijuana in the cushions and back seats of her 1996 Dodge Intrepid.

Police arrested Lopez, 33, and her passenger, Lucy Ann Garcia, 41, after the two admitted to knowing about the drugs. The U.S. Attorney's Office lodged felony drug charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, although Lopez's case was later dismissed.

On a reservation intersected by one of the border's busiest drug smuggling corridors, more tribal members are accepting similar offers — lured by quick, easy money and little threat of punishment, say tribal leaders.

The percentage of suspected drug smugglers  who are tribal members arrested by Tohono O'odham police has increased 60-fold in the last two decades, said Sgt. David Cray, a 19-year veteran of the agency's anti-drug unit.

'Hard to Get Out'

Mexican drug smugglers "flash cash to them, and once they get sucked in, it's hard to get out," said Tohono O'odham Police Chief Joe Delgado.

Spurred by concerns about erosion of tribal culture and the decreasing quality of life on the Tohono O'odham Nation, tribal Chairman Ned Norris Jr. is openly discussing what he calls a crisis and soliciting more assistance from non-tribal agencies. That marks a dramatic shift from past tribal leaders who played down the issue.

"It's important for us to get these kind of things out on the table and accept the fact that, unfortunately, we've got people within the nation that are bought into the business of smuggling," Norris said.

Some tribal members and non-tribal law enforcement officials applaud the shift. "There wasn't a lot of openness to help from the outside," said Anthony Coulson, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Tucson office. "This is a whole new paradigm for us."

But merely acknowledging the problem won't make it disappear, say tribal members. Smuggling is deeply rooted and often a family affair, making tribal members more apt to ignore it than report it.

That's a major reason it continues, said Edward Reina, Tohono O'odham Nation director of public safety.

"On all tribes, it isn't just one family, we are all related," Reina said. "Nobody wants to turn anybody in. If they do, they will not be part of the family."

Culture Under Assault

The core values and culture of the O'odham are under assault, some say, with so many tribal families involved in the smuggling.

"It's a continuation of the genocide of our culture," says tribal member Ofelia Rivas, an activist for O'odham rights and resident of the small border village of Ali Ak Chin, commonly called Menager's Dam.

When Sgt. Cray began working on the Tohono O'odham police drug unit in 1991, an estimated 99 percent of people the unit arrested for drug smuggling were non-tribal. Mexican drug smugglers carried drugs across the border, left them at a predetermined spot and drivers picked them up.

But as tribal police caught on and began busting them, smugglers started recruiting tribal members to store loads or drive drugs north. Today, at least 60 percent of those arrested for drug smuggling are tribal members, Cray said. Through the first six months of 2009, 29 of the 45 arrests O'odham police made for smuggling drugs were of tribal members.

The jump is due to a surge in recruiting that stems from the growing number of Border Patrol agents on the Tohono O'Odham Nation and the recent construction of steel vehicle barriers that line most of the 75 miles of international border. Whereas police must have reasonable suspicion to pull over tribal drivers, they can question any non-tribal person driving on the reservation's restricted areas, which include desert roads or routes south of Arizona 86.

There's no shortage of willing drivers, tribal leaders say. "There's so much unemployment," Cray said. "It's easy to find a driver."

26 Percent Unemployment

The Tohono O'odham Nation's unemployment rate is 26 percent, and the average income is $8,100, tribal officials say. Smugglers offer $700 to $5,000, depending on the type of load, to tribal members to either drive a load or store drugs at their home or in a shed, Norris said.

"If you don't have food on the table and somebody comes along and says drive 15 miles and make so much money, people are going to do it," Rivas said.

Smugglers have been employing another tactic to expand their operations: getting romantically involved with tribal women and having children with them, said Delgado, the police chief. As fathers of tribal children, they cannot be kicked off the reservation and can more easily draw people into the smuggling.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson takes all "viable" cases from the Tohono O'Odham Nation, said Lynnette Kimmins, chief assistant U.S. attorney in the Tucson office. "It's got to be something that can be proved in court," she said.

Of the 2,303 drug prosecutions from U.S. attorney's Tucson office from fiscal years 2006 to 2009, 16 percent originated on the Tohono O'odham Nation, she said.

Chairman Norris has recently met with officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Arizona Department of Homeland Security to get assistance in combating the smuggling.

Tohono O'odham police officers have been doing more outreach work in communities, including conducting open forums to talk about the smuggling.

"A lot of them are saying they are tired of this and they are reporting the violators," said Reina, the tribe's public safety director. "Without the communities' involvement, we can't do anything. They know everybody that does this."

by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:30 AM
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Replies (1-10):
Happytime
by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:49 AM

 Bump

Joqui
by Joqui on May. 2, 2010 at 12:52 AM

Like  many Tohono O'odham tribal members lured into driving or storing loads of marijuana, Jenny Lopez got an offer from Mexican drug smugglers she couldn't refuse:

 

SAY WHAT?!! lol

norwegianwood
by Platinum Member on May. 2, 2010 at 12:53 AM

 Yeah..I think if I was growing my own..again, they wouldn't have a market here....just sayin.

P

survivorinohio
by René on May. 2, 2010 at 1:13 AM


Quoting norwegianwood:

 Yeah..I think if I was growing my own..again, they wouldn't have a market here....just sayin.

P

Yes its an amazing plant it really will grow anywhere:)

                                                 

   
                                             

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of both the weak and strong, because sometime in life you will have been one or all of these. George Washington Carver

ThatTXMom
by Platinum Member on May. 2, 2010 at 11:53 AM

The TRIBE wasn't busted.... some tribal members were.  BIG Difference.  That is like saying America got busted when some Americans got busted.  Sorry, as a tribal member of the Cherokee Nation, I felt that distinction needs to be made clear.

From the sounds of this article Tribal officials are trying to stop the problem, but the utter poverty these first peoples live in makes the lure of smuggling hard to resist. 

SxyMartini
by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:25 PM

Those brown people again? What are we going to do?

katy_kay
by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:27 PM

 Send them back where they came from :\ 

Quoting SxyMartini:

Those brown people again? What are we going to do?

 

SxyMartini
by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Careful...who was here first?

Quoting katy_kay:

 Send them back where they came from :\ 

Quoting SxyMartini:

Those brown people again? What are we going to do?

 


ThatTXMom
by Platinum Member on May. 2, 2010 at 12:44 PM

We aren't brown... we are red!  hehe  Okay, okay...we are naturally sun-baked. 

katy_kay
by on May. 2, 2010 at 1:21 PM

 When did we ever care about something like who was here first?  ;)

Quoting SxyMartini:

Careful...who was here first?

Quoting katy_kay:

 Send them back where they came from :\ 

Quoting SxyMartini:

Those brown people again? What are we going to do?

 


 

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